Why does my breast milk supply drop during my period?

Did you know that many of us will notice a supply drop right before our period is going to start and lasts through the period? This is caused by hormone shifts in your body. As supply dips, the milk flow slows. Research shows that the composition of breast milk changes around ovulation (mid-cycle). The levels of sodium and chloride in the milk go up while lactose (milk sugar) and potassium go down. So, the breast milk becomes saltier and less sweet during this time. Some babies become frustrated with this change. They may grab the nipple with their mouth and shake their head back and forth. Pop on and off the breast. Knead or beat the breast with their hands or become extra fussy at the breast. They may even cluster feed and act as if they’re still hungry. They’re trying all the strategies to get your milk to flow how they prefer.

Also around the time of ovulation and just before the start of your period, estrogen and progesterone levels change which can affect your breasts and your breast milk. When estrogen and progesterone levels go up, it can make your breasts feel full and tender.

Higher estrogen levels can also interfere with milk production. Studies also show that calcium levels in the blood go down after ovulation. The lower level of calcium may also contribute to the drop in the milk supply. Lower levels of calcium may also cause your nipples to feel sore, making breastfeeding during your period uncomfortable or sometimes painful.

This is a temporary dip but can be surprising the first time it happens. Remember: this dip can happen once or twice before you actually have a period as your hormones are shifting back into baby making mode. If your baby is older than 6 months and eating lots of solids, you may not notice a difference. The strongest behaviors are seen under 6 months when babies need an exclusive milk diet. You may also notice the dip if you’re a pumper.

Having your period start again may not have any effect on your baby or your milk supply. Some babies continue to breastfeed well. Others will not like the taste of the breast milk or the drop in the amount of breast milk that can happen when your period returns. Your baby may:

  • Become fussier than normal
  • Want to breastfeed more due to the lower milk supply
  • Breastfeed less because there is less breast milk and it tastes different
  • Nursing strike

What can you do about it? Knowing it can happen is the first step. Stay well hydrated and eat quality nutrition. Many find adding in a calcium/magnesium supplement (1000mg of calcium/500mg magnesium per day split into 3-4 “doses”) can help combat the drop. Others find adding in lactation specific herbs or supportive foods help. Iron rich foods like dark leafy greens and red meat and milk making foods like oatmeal, almonds and fennel can really help. Keep offering the breast or pumping frequently. It will get better and your supply will come back up as soon as your hormones shift again after your period. It usually only lasts a few days.

Word to the wise: You can release an egg from your ovary (ovulate) before your period returns. If you’re involved in an intimate relationship, and you’re not using birth control, you can get pregnant again without ever getting your first period even while you’re breastfeeding. If you notice a very drastic drop in milk supply, consider taking a pregnancy test.

IUDs and Breast Milk Supply

Where did my breast milk go?

BIRTH CONTROL AND MILK SUPPLY

An IUD is a form of birth control that’s put into your uterus to prevent pregnancy. One of the most common forms of birth control, it’s long-term, reversible, and considered one of the most effective birth control methods. Many doctors will encourage new mothers to have them placed between 4-6 weeks postpartum checkup to prevent pregnancies too close together. The Paragard IUD is wrapped in copper and doesn’t have hormones. The Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla IUDs use the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. Be aware that each IUD has a different amount of progestin. They are not created equal. Progestin is also the hormone found in the mini pill.

Hormonal IUDs and the mini pill are often recommended by doctors as the best form of birth control for breastfeeding mothers because most of the research that is available says that they don’t impact breast milk supply. And many who use these methods don’t experience any drop in supply. For some, though, both the mini pill and the hormonal IUDs will drop breast milk supply, some times drastically. Every body is sensitive to different levels of hormones. If you have an IUD placed and notice a drop in supply, the only way to increase supply again is to remove the IUD. Increased pumping or herbal supplements will usually not be enough to increase supply again because you’re working against hormones. The only way to rebound supply would be to remove the IUD. If you’re considering a hormonal based IUD and aren’t sure if your supply will drop, consider taking a few rounds of the mini pill (progestin only) which is the same hormone as the IUD. If your supply drops, you only have to stop taking the pill and your supply will rebound much quicker.

Did you use a hormone based birth control? Did you notice a change in your breast milk supply?